Manchester divided: Will Rooney's demand for a move split a city?

As Ferguson admits his prize asset wants out, the club's fans fear a great sporting betrayal

The sky was a pale wintry blue over Old Trafford yesterday, which seemed apt. For the news had come out of the blue to most Manchester United fans that Wayne Rooney, Footballer of the Year last season, had announced that he wants to leave the club.

The place was in shock, but few doubted it would happen. Street traders outside the ground had already discounted scarves proclaiming "Wayne Rooney – The White Pele" to just half price. Inside the United Megastore two customers were returning shirts bearing the player's name. "I'll have a Chicharito one instead," one man said glumly.

So unexpected was the news that most United staff only heard it yesterday morning. "It has been a complete shock to lots of people inside the club," one insider said.

"The overwhelming reaction is sheer disappointment," said one of the street traders, John Speed, 40, a lifelong United fan clad in the green-and-gold scarf of the fans' protest movement that wants to force the club's owners, the Glazer family, to leave. The Glazers have burdened what was once the world's richest football club with debts of £700m.

One of the whirligig of theories spinning around the place was that Rooney wanted to leave because he was disappointed that such huge debts meant that United had not bought any top-class players to replace Cristiano Ronaldo whom they sold to Real Madrid, 18 months ago, for a record £80m.

"What most fans are wanting is some kind of explanation from Rooney," said the scarf-seller, "as to what has made him completely change his mind from saying he wanted to 'stay for life' to announcing 'I'm adamant I want to leave' over a period of weeks rather than months."

Theories abounded, about rows with the manager, chimerical injuries, demands from Rooney's wife, Coleen, after press reports that he had been using prostitutes again, and more. Many were held in the teeth of Sir Alex Ferguson's revelation that Rooney had announced he would not renew his contract as long ago as 14 August. But why let facts spoil a good theory.

There was fertile ground too for disagreement about whether Rooney has been off form. Or not trying. Or has had too much on his mind to concentrate on his game.

The big rumour was that Rooney wants to move down the Mancunian Way to Eastlands, the home of United's great rivals Manchester City. "I'd love him to come," said a gleeful City fan, Anthony Marshall, 48, who could offer no convincing explanation as to what he was doing outside the United ground, grinning broadly. "But they'd be silly to sell him to another Premiership club."

Dark clouds had moved over the stadium and the heavens opened as if in disapproval. "I don't think the truth has come out yet," said a United fan, Steve Wilson. "It's sad to see the impact that money and greed is having on the game."

The street traders put up giant umbrellas. "I've just ordered new supplies of the green-and-gold," said Mr Speed. "I think the protest movement will swell now, especially if Rooney makes it clear that he is leaving because of the club's lack of investment in new players. He doesn't have to say anything. All he has to do is pick a green-and-gold scarf from the pitch and put it round his neck like Beckham did."

Gloom was in the air. "We could get knocked out of the top four this season which would mean no Champions League football next year, which could be very costly, as it was for Liverpool," said the vendor. "We could be the next Liverpool."

The rain stopped as quickly as it started. Not one but two rainbows appeared in the sky. "I'll always back them, whatever," said a young United fan, Leonnie Turner, 17. Talk turned to whether United would buy Torres from Liverpool to replace Rooney.

The weather changes quickly in these parts.

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